norwich city 1 – 1 leeds united: distractionsBack
It could be seen as a blessing that almost every Leeds United game this season has offered something to distract us from the football and the result.
Whether it’s Hockaday in the job centre, Redfearn on the bench, Cellino in the away end or Warnock out of the team, we’ve often been able to gloss over the actual game – yeah, we drew, we lost, it was boring – and head for more substantial subjects.
The racism allegations made by Cameron Jerome against Giuseppe Bellusci aren’t the distraction anybody wanted, though, but at the moment that’s what they are. There is very little, at this stage, that anyone can add to the accusation: it’s been made, now it has to be investigated. But with feet of column inches to fill and hours of Twitter timelines to waste, the non-evidence based analysis and the amateur lip reading and the hypothetical scenarios began as soon as the news broke, while the game itself receded into the background.
Some things are more important than football, and racist abuse is one of them; but until we find out what actually happened between Bellusci and Jerome, there’s not a lot anyone can contribute except noise to a situation that doesn’t need noise, but clarity.
The distraction after the Rotherham game on Friday was much better, although the Norwich result shows that Adryan Tavares isn’t going to be the ministering angel to save our season, not all on his own. It was kind of wonderful to walk away from New Millmoor on Friday night and let the defeat fade behind the debutant’s performance, to be able to discuss and enthuse about something that happened on the football pitch that was good.
Tavares kept his place at Norwich, although Lewis Cook dropped out of the ever-changing diamond; the silly buggers being played with the full-backs continues as again Warnock dropped out to be replaced by Berardi, with Sam Byram returning on the right.
The net result was that Norwich dominated possession and kept United penned in their own half for most of the game, which I’m not sure is the intended result of our new passing style. Leeds seem to have been striving for some new standard of elegance all season, but the defending when Russell Martin was left unmarked at a corner and headed past Silvestri suggested Leeds are still more comfortable walking in flat shoes than tottering too tall in stilettos; Martin did start off marked, but the two Leeds players who had been watching him had wrestled each other to the ground by the time the corner was delivered.
Leeds deserve credit for the response, a goal within four minutes; and when they react like that, you sometimes wonder what United could do if let off the leash. With one shot on target, Leeds scored one goal – imagine what might happen if we had two shots? Or three? As ever Doukara’s goal came from a fair old distance; even without, for once, an entire team of defenders blocking the path to goal, he still had to overcome the distance, something he did with style, putting a neatly placed finish into the bottom corner where other players – I’m looking at you, Rudy Austin – might have attempted to break the back of the net.
The goal earned an assist for Tavares, too, who looked exponentially more creative than anyone else when he came on at Rotherham, but like Douks and Antenucci, the overall philosophy of the team seems to be limiting our creative possibilities, not expanding them. It’s no wonder Leeds only get one shot on target per game when Doukara is consistently being set up on the edge of the eighteen yard box, rather than the six; the absurd thing about Antenucci’s war with the league’s linesmen is that the scene of battle is about forty yards too far away from the goal, meaning that even if he wins, be still has another fight to face just to get near the goalkeeper.
I heard one supporter describe this as the ‘best football Leeds have played for a decade’, which reminded me of Dave Hockaday’s forlorn boast that his Forest Green Rovers had played ‘The best football ever seen at that level’ on their way to two near-relegations and two 10th-place finishes in the conference. Leeds are becoming masters this season of something that isn’t really football – it’s a series of training drills – and while it might be alright when going away to a strong Norwich team and hoping for a point, at some stage this team needs to show more enterprise than that.
Home games are that stage. It shouldn’t be ignored that a point away to Norwich is actually a good result, especially against a background of doomy predictions of how many Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson would score past us. But when you had to score from your only shot to get that point, it feels as much like luck as good management; and if you offer an Elland Road crowd one shot on target and a game played for a draw, they quite simply aren’t going to come and watch it. We thought, they’ll say, this Adryan Tavares bloke was going to score a hat-trick in every game. They’d be wrong to expect so much; but they’d be right to expect to be watching him try.
The international break gave Darko Milanic time to ponder, but two away games in quick succession perhaps haven’t given him the chance to put whatever attacking thoughts he has in to action – if he has any. His indecision about whether to play Cook or Tavares at Rotherham didn’t inspire much confidence that he knows his own mind, let alone his team; while the only area of the pitch where he seems willing to have firm ideas is at full-back.
Questions about his control over the team won’t have been helped by his post-match reaction to the Bellusci allegations. Not commenting, pending the investigation and a conversation with the player on the way home, was the right thing to do in the immediate circumstances; but Darko seems to have a habit of going on talking longer than is necessary.
“After the game I’m not used to going to the changing room. I now have five hours on the bus to talk with him. I haven’t talked with the player,” said Milanic, which was fine. “For me it’s difficult to comment on something I didn’t hear and something that is new for me. It is better if other people in the club comment on this,” he added, which made it sound as if he was desperately searching the room for Cellino, for Salerno, for anybody with actual authority to come and deal with a situation much more serious than a miffed Stephen Warnock.
Who actually are the people at the club who can comment on this is an interesting question. Graham Bean was nominally running things until he was sacked, and his knowledge of Football League and FA rulebooks and procedures might have been valuable at a moment like this; a competent and well qualified CEO, whoever they might be, would be good to have around right now. But Cellino has pared those structures right back, putting himself never more than a step away from the controls of any part of the club – except when, like this week, he is apparently in Italy fighting more tax charges.
What knowledge or understanding Cellino could bring to the allegations around Bellusci isn’t clear, and besides, Cellino tends to only turn up for the good times; he usually has people like Hockaday around to take the fall when things go wrong, and might be regretting not sooner hiring a fall-guy to replace Bean. Milanic, just arrived from Austria and still struggling to understand how ham can be rothered and what that means when playing Cook or Tavares, doesn’t seem to feel qualified to speak about the situation, let alone handle it himself. Which makes you wonder why he is actually here, but then that’s another matter.
While we wait for the truth to come out about what happened between Jerome and Bellusci, and while we wait for repercussions and for someone to deal with them, there is something Darko Milanic could be getting on with: giving us some exciting football to talk about on Saturday, to distract us from everything else.